Paid Subscriptions to Twitter, Facebook?

Those of you who have taken August to heart and checked out of your digital information streams, a battle is brewing with everyone’s favorite real-time firehose: Twitter. It seems that the digerati’s lifeline is consolidating its power base by changing the rules that govern its API and specifically, third-party developer access to it.

GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram

I first noticed this when my tweets stopped populating my LinkedIn newsfeed. More significantly, Twitter decision to exert greater control over its destiny prompted outcries from across the digital kingdom. One of the more pragmatic and astute chroniclers of the new media landscape, GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram, observed in Bloomberg Businessweek:

“Depending on whom you listen to, this is either a totally logical and even welcome move by a growing corporation or a heinous betrayal of everything the company used to stand for and a sign it has completely lost its way.”

The story’s titled provided a hint as to where Mr. Ingram stood:

“Hey, Twitter: Shouldn’t It Be About the Users?”

Be that as it may, Twitter clearly doesn’t want to find itself in Facebook’s PR predicament wherein investors are questioning the company’s overall (ad-driven) business model and unusually high P/E ratio. Twitter wants to leverage its intellectual property (i.e., its platform) to monetize its real estate with commercial/promoted messages. But doesn’t Facebook’s walled-in garden already take this approach?

Furthermore, do Twitter’s new rules portend the end of my UberSocial Twitter client? Is a Twitter API-dependent startup like Thirst flirting with eventual extinction?

Or as Jolie O’Dell posits in her VentureBeat piece: “Under strained circumstances, Thirst dares to launch a new Twitter app” She went on to note:

“It’s also a pretty big gamble. Twitter has asked developers — warned developers — repeatedly over the past couple years to not make Twitter clients for consumers, to not reproduce the Twitter experience in a new skin with new interactions.”

Ms. O’Dell also wrote about another (“doomed”) Twitter-dependent app called Twheel:

“We recently covered Twheel, a gorgeous Twitter app that we said was “doomed” due to its use/misuse of the Twitter API. Twheel is a consumer-facing client made to replace the official Twitter mobile app, and we loved it.

Unfortunately, Twitter has put the kibosh on unofficial consumer clients for Twitter; the only loophole is for apps that have 100,000 users or fewer. The Twheel team has just decided that to keep the app alive, they’re going to take that loophole. And in an Internet economy where eyeballs equal money, 100,000 users or fewer still meets our definition of “doomed.””

Of course Twitter’s d̶r̶a̶c̶o̶n̶i̶a̶n̶ ̶m̶e̶a̶s̶u̶r̶e̶s̶ retrenchment has much to do with its ad monetization strategy. If it controls the platform, then it can milk it for its data-driven riches — or rather, the billions brand marketers will spend to engage Twitter’s more than a half billion (and, in Facebook’s case, nearly one billion) users.

Many will argue that the commercialization of these socially vital services rightfully sustain their very existence. Others pine for a utopian channel devoid of commercial interruption. Gee, wasn’t that the crux of the issue people had with NBC over its tape-delayed Olympics coverage versus the BBC’s live smorgasbord of programming?

I just forked over $50 for an annual subscription to a new, much buzzed-about social network called App.Net, which promises a commercial free, real-time socially driven information stream with an open API for developers. Take that, Twitter!

Personally, I think $50 will be an obstacle for many, and may change the democratic nature of the real-time stream. (No Arab Spring germinating here.)   On the other hand, when last I checked some 15,000 people had signed on for App.Net’s Alpha version.

So here’s the big question: as Facebook struggles to gain friends on Wall Street by revamping and proving its ad monetization strategy, and Twitter maneuvers to avoid Facebook’s mistakes when rolling out its ad-driven business model (prior to an IPO?), why not go the subscription route?

Even if each lost half their users, at $2/month they’re both very healthy businesses.  They might even start by taking a page from Wall Street darling LinkedIn by offering enhanced functionality at a premium. It’s just a thought, but one that I’m sure surfaces in the vaunted halls at both social networks.

What would you pay for an annual (ad-free) subscription to Facebook? What about Twitter?

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